PAX East 2017: The Future of Halo Wars 2

Halo Wars 2 released in the spring, but the team at Creative Assembly is still hard at work on new content for the game. At PAX East 2017, a panel of developers spoke about the upcoming content for the Xbox One’s flagship (and possibly only) real time strategy game.

The developers noted that they had to make adjustments for console, such as exaggerating characteristics to be visible at scale because of the RTS camera. This also gave each faction a more distinctive look, such as the Banished receiving added armour and melee elements to it. There were also universe specific tweaks such as making AI unit Isabel more relatable, so she’s in the trenches with you on the battlefield.

The team stated that they could “pretty much do what they want from a thematic standpoint”, which is apparent in the finished product that retains certain elements of the core Halo shooter series (the iconic units, colour palette) while adding distinct new characters, unit and lore to the overall universe. The Mark of Atriox branding of that entire faction was presented as an example, as was lead antagonist Atriox himself; he was created as the answer to “what if a brute was incredibly smart?”

In the near future, features like ranked leaderboards are coming soon as well as new leaders like Morgan Kinsano of the Hellbringers as part of the season pass (or for individual purchase). Attendees got a sneak peek at her Inferno ability that swept the map with fire as well as her Flame Warthog unit, effective in early rushes and wiping out swarms of opposing infantry units in short order.

The panelists briefly mentioned their interest in a possible Art of Halo Wars 2, a project that I would personally enjoy as an avid fan of Creative Assembly’s visual style and the breathtaking cinematics by Blur. For fans of Halo Wars 2, there’s a lot of exciting content and possibilities down the road for the revived series.

PAX East 2017: Birth of the Marvel Telltale Universe

Now a tradition at PAX, Telltale’s panel at PAX East 2017 brought a bevy of news about the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy series to eager fans. Presented as a different take on the characters from the enormously popular movie, the series was described as “Action and heartbreak and everything you’d want from a Telltale game” by community manager Caroline Liddick. Telltale’s head of creative communications Job Stauffer emphasized that “it’s really the Marvel Telltale Universe” and that “Telltale has become a safe space to create and collaborate”, a critical value for a studio that focuses so heavily on narrative in their games.

The importance of  Telltale’s first adventure game in the Marvel universe was top of mind for Bill Rosemann, executive creative director of the newly formed Marvel Games who acknowledged that they “only got one shot to get this right”. He pointed out that it was “a dream to work on the game based on the movie based on the comic” and his commitment to “write about important issues, but make sure you know who everyone is, how they relate to each other”.

Job described the process as “When we develop games, we develop them live” and the importance of being able to “change and adjust for next episode, always take feedback into consideration” between episodes. Bill’s commitment that the team would “never write down, we write up” was a strong statement about the Marvel Games team’s focus on challenging its audience. One example that stood out was Peter Quill’s Walkman, a device that simultaneously provides him (and us) with great job as well as a bittersweet feel when it reminds Peter of his mom.

Executive producer Justin Lambrose spoke the team’s commitment to “make sure that they’re doing justice to each one of the characters” while “bringing in Telltale’s unique style”. The company showed a willingness to challenge fan expectations and history with a franchise with their take on Batman, which looks to continue with the Guardians as Justin emphasized that Telltale is “not reselling an origin” and their desire to “dig in to each one of the characters so we can understand the choices we’re making”. A prime example of the character development is Rocket (voiced by Nolan North, a Marvel recommendation) whom Bill describes as “the Wolverine of the group: short, hairy and a lot of attitude”. The series will also feature a new female character for the first time outside of comics as well…!

Bill said it best in describing Marvel Games’ approach as one that’s “always a mix of serious and fun”. The Telltale panel at PAX East 2017 showed off concept art, narrative previews and an in-depth look at the collaboration with Marvel Games that should result in a memorable adventure game with the Guardians of the Galaxy later this year.

PAX East 2017: Battle into the Night

Battle Chasers: Nightwar has been long awaited by both fans of the dormant graphic novel series and RPG fans alike. In development by the team at Airship Syndicate under the leadership of longtime comics creator and Darksiders lead Joe Madureira, the game was initially funded by Kickstarter on the strength of the Battle Chasers universe’s longtime fans. With a lengthy demo (the entire first dungeon) available at PAX East, the team has a polished and thoughtfully created experience to share this weekend.

 

Joe Mad’s trademark art style is present throughout from logo and splash screen to the design, animation and transitions throughout the demo. I’m not very familiar with the source material but the distinctive character designs, names and fantasy/tech hybrid universe should be appealing to steampunk fans and RPG systems geeks alike.

Combat moves are divided up between standard attacks, mana attacks, special burst attacks and the ability to use items. Each action is beautifully animated with the same beautiful art style and smooth animation that has the sense of momentum and transition that Supergiant Games such as Bastion have integrated. There are little touches such as birds landing on Calibretto upon victory that give the world a lived-in feel, which extends to navigating the overview map and dungeon levels outside of battle as well.

What really stands out is the burst system, a 3-tiered meter that accumulates when dealing damage and eventually unlocks devastating focused or area damage attacks. It shares a structure with Street Fighter V’s EX bar, providing players with different special options with varying levels of meter commitments based on situation.

The music and sound effects by Power Up Audio have lilting, melodic tones which blend bright instrumental tones with heavy, base filled bursts. The sounds are reminiscent of modern fantasy movies and give the gameplay an epic feel that adds a lot to the presentation.

I had to tear myself away after 30 minutes (longer than I intended to stay) to give the next player a chance to experience Nightwar. In an exhibit hall filled with hundreds of games and an overwhelming amount to see and experience, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is an RPG worth experiencing before its much anticipated release.